Miscellaneous · Seasonals

12 Days of Christmas: Icarus, Ambition, and Planetes

In space, litter kills.
In space, litter kills.

Every once in a while, I find that my interest in the new anime season to be rather sparse. Although I find it to be a fairly rare occurrence, it does happen at least once every two or so years. During 2012’s summer season, very few of the series which popped up managed to hit at home or grab at my interests. Even fewer of the series that I watched during summer manage to take a hold of me, and to this day, I still have some of the anime aired at this time on hold. Fortunately though, the hunk of time left open in my schedule allowed me to get around to several well-established classics and to revisit several renowned titles, series to fill in the rather sizable gap. And I’m proud to say that the first one I watched was one about garbagemen… in space. I’m talking of course, about Planetes.

Planetes, in my eyes, is nothing short of magnificent. The writing, direction, and sense of humor are all pitch-perfect and the way the first half interlinks with the second is already a sight to behold in itself. The way Planetes ‘ “dilemma of the week” episodes lead into the far more streamlined second half is something I’d love to see more in anime: no secondary character is wasted and all those introduced are well utilized in order to tie the viewer even closer to the brilliant, emotive script and world of our characters. It’s one thing to hear that an anonymous group of men were killed in an overly zealous launch demo; it’s another when you learn that they were a group of lovable goofs from the first quarter.

In ancient Greek, Planetes means “wanderers,” and the members of debris section are exactly this: they’re a ragtag group of inepts, dreamers, and seekers, all searching for something out in the depths of space. One wants to own his own spaceship, another seeks out his last memento of his deceased wife while out searching through debris, and others just want to earn enough to feed their own families. But despite the absurdity of their dreams and the ridicule they receive for working for the lowest section of Technora, they keep their heads high and work towards their own goals. The crew of the Toy Box remain proud of their job which potentially saves possibly thousands of lives, no matter how low their pay or stature.

And then it gets ugly.

While undergoing a mission to retrieve dangerous space debris, the main character, Hachimaki, is separated from the group and left alone to wander in space. While Hachi luckily receives little to no physical damage from his time stranded, he is forced to face his own mortality. His traumatic experience out in the quiet, depths of space later becomes a key traumatic experience for Hachi. Having brushed lips with death itself, Hachi finally realizes his discontent with working for the debris section and begins to recklessly chase after his father, on a lucrative exploratory mission for Jupiter.

Planetes takes not only its name from ancient Greece, but it also takes the story’s core concept straight from classic Greek mythology. Just as Inception was spawned from Theseus and the Minotaur (and yes, I am dead serious about that), the second half of Planetes draws roots to the well-renowned myth of Daedalus and Icarus, a classical poem about excessive ambition and balance. In the poem, Daedalus and Icarus are trapped inside a large, inescapable tower high above by Minos, the jealous king of Crete. In order to escape, Daedalus fashions together two sets of wax wings for him and his son and warns his son (who really just fucks around the entire poem) to fly neither too close to the sun nor too close to the waves. But as we all know, Icarus ignores his father’s guidance and flies off course into the heat of sun and then drops lifeless into the oceans below.

Hachimaki’s experience after his traumatic moments in space runs parallel to the classic myth: stuck in what now feels like dead-end job and no longer ambivalent about his dream, Hachi decides to chase after his father in the field of space exploration. After leaving his tower (in this case, his old live-in job), Hachi becomes blinded by excessive ambition and drive. He no longer seeks to communicate with his family members or even his loving girlfriend, Ai. No longer following the example of his father, he gives himself completely to selfishness and pride, and becomes a complete asshole who only trusts in himself. He injures his body, sacrifices his most loving relationships, and throws his caution into the wind in order to become something even greater than he already is. As the viewer, we can only watch as someone as fun as Hachi spirals out of control on a self-destructive quest towards Jupiter.

However, the story of Icarus is not meant to discourage reaching out towards one’s goals. The ultimate joke in the ancient Greek poem is that Icarus, much like Hachi, already had the power to reach great heights. It isn’t the attempt to ascend that is punished but rather his presumption and obliviousness towards his own limits. At what I believe to be Hachi’s very worst, he discovers that his greatest rival, Hassim, is not a companion but rather a terrorist, and catches him in the act of destroying the shuttle. However, when Hachi lashes out, he is not upset over the destruction of his dream; instead he explodes at his ex-comrade claiming that he wanted Hassim to push his own limits even further. Hachi forgets everything around him, and lost in his excessive ambition forgets the hectic-yet-balanced life he had achieved in the debris section.

In the end, Planetes is about balance. Equality between different countries, scaling the importance of both progress and tradition, finding the golden mean between family and work; all of these are sub-themes that are wonderfully handled by Planetes in a mature, meaningful, and thoughtful manner rarely seen in anime. And what’s Planetes’ answer to finding balance? As Tanabe Ai would say, love. It’s simple, it’s sweet, it’s a bit cheesy, but it’s love nevertheless.

Stray Snippets

  • If you can honestly say that you felt nothing from episode 11, then you are a heartless monster.
  • Little known fact: the ED is one of my favorites of all time.
  • After rereading this, I had come to the realization that this may have had more typos and grammar mistakes than all my previous posts combined. But fuck it, YOLO

4 thoughts on “12 Days of Christmas: Icarus, Ambition, and Planetes

  1. This is actually one of the earliest series (the manga, at least) I heard of in my fandom. But I decided to wait until I got older, as it seemed too mature for me to like as a kid.

    Every now and then I see the anime being mentioned and loved. I guess I should really give it a try, huh?

    1. Definitely! The first half is brilliant, breezy office satire, and the second half is nothing short of phenomenal! A must-watch and a definite Top 10 show for me.

  2. Agh! I’m a huge sucker for anything space related and yet still haven’t watched this. Now, after this stellar (harhar) review, it’ll gnaw at me all break. So thanks for that 😉

    1. It’s a worthy watch for sure, and a not-so-insignificant amount of people call it a masterpiece. Definitely a good way to spend a day off.

      Also, the anime also examines humanity’s relationship to space itself, which in my book is nothing short of fascinating. While this theme takes a backseat to the Icarus and Daedalus myth in the anime, I’ve heard that the manga goes more in depth with this.

      So in a sense, Planetes is also a study of mankind’s relationship to the (literal) heavens, and that no matter where you guy, man and nature are always connected to eachother. You’re sure to love it.

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